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January/February 2001

Horace Parlan
The Complete Blue Note Horace Parlan Sessions
Mosaic Records

Parlan cut the selections on the five-CD set The Complete Blue Note Horace Parlan Sessions between 1960 and 1963. The sessions include three with him and rhythm sections (one includes Latin percussionist Ray Barretto), two quintets with Pittsburgh’s Turrentine brothers, saxophonist Stanley and trumpeter Tommy and two others with various combos, including Booker Ervin and Grant Green and, on one, trumpeter Johnny Coles. Drummer Al Harewood’s authoritative but spare sounds are heard on all sessions but the last, on which Billy Higgins replaces him. Bassist George Tucker appears on five dates; the others are Sam Jones and Butch Warren.

Given Parlan’s right-hand limitations, it’s not surprising that his solos are spare. On the piano-plus-rhythm selections he likes to employ medium tempos that are comfortable to groove on. He constructs his spots patiently and injects them with a strong blues feeling. His work also has a strong gospel influence; in fact, you’d have to go a long way to find a jazz pianist who uses gospel elements so effectively, as his work on “C Jam Blues” illustrates. Parlan’s influences are Ahmad Jamal’s economical playing, Horace Silver’s funk and Jamal and Red Garland’s chord voicings.

One of Parlan’s strong points is his varied chords, and he keeps the momentum going with his comping. The thing I don’t like about his playing is its repetitiveness: Parlan puts together solos well, but uses a limited vocabulary. He ends phrases too often by playing the same tone or chord twice and he sets up the same bouncy groove too frequently. It’s not as if Parlan can’t do anything else, though, as his excellent, ruminative playing on “I Want to Be Loved” and “Prelude to a Kiss” illustrates.

The quintet material with the Turrentines deserves all sorts of praise. Those who are only familiar with Stanley’s pop-oriented recordings may be pleasantly surprised by his work with Parlan. He was at his best in the early 1960s with people like Max Roach and Parlan. Stanley’s work is funky enough for any reasonable person and he’s more rhythmically flexible and melodically inventive here than he later became; he also seems to have better chops here than later in his career. His playing is a commanding presence and his horn rings with an arresting tone. Tommy, Stanley’s older brother by seven years, demonstrates that he was among the better postbop trumpeters. He had it all: a big brassy tone, fine range, good technique, imaginativeness. Tommy’s style, seemingly rooted in the playing of Clifford Brown and Fats Navarro, was distinctive, too. If he’d been more active musically after the mid-1960s, he might’ve gotten the attention he deserved.

The sessions with tenorman Ervin and guitarist Green maintain the high level of performances established on the Turrentine dates. Ervin’s a jet-propelled swinger with a style between Dexter Gordon’s and John Coltrane’s. Green performs blues-drenched, melodic, nicely constructed solos. Parlan again plays repetitively, but does it on these tracks more deliberately, aiming at repeating purposely to build tension. His solos are highly fragmented, sometimes dissonant and sometimes good-humored. Coles turns in nice, thoughtful, Miles Davis-influenced spots.

Parlan performs a lot of standards on the piano with rhythm section sessions, though a few Parlan originals like “Return Engagement” and “Low Down” appear. But the others contain a nice bunch of sideman (Tommy’s “Rastus,” Ervin’s “A Tune for Richard”) and Parlan-penned originals (“Back From the Gig,” “Happy Frame of Mind”).

Originally published in January/February 2001
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